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Thoughts on Pacifism and Just War (An Essay) Part II

May 3, 2010


The foundation of Christian ethics and discipleship is love.  The Scriptures affirm that, “God is love” (I John 4:8), and according to Jesus the greatest commandment is two-fold:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22: 27, 39).  He went as far as to say that all the Law and the Prophets (the entire Old Testament?) hangs on these commandments.  We can be sure that whatever conclusions we come to concerning violence and war, love must be the aim.  Yet, what shall we do when confronted with a situation where we must choose between loving our enemy, and loving those whom our enemy is hurting?  It seems that the question is an impossible one.

Although I can not stand hard and fast on any one conclusion, I propose that if, in the unfortunate situation we find ourselves facing this choice, we must choose the love of protecting the innocent over the love of not resisting the enemy.  To choose the latter would be love without justice—which may in fact be unloving after all.[1] What about our enemy, someone might ask.  Can we oppose our enemy while loving them?  Humanly speaking, I do not know if we can.  However, I do see a precedence in the Bible where God opposes—even violently so—those who are bent on destroying and oppressing the innocent.  While Jesus did not oppose evildoers who were intent on destroying him, God often intervened to rescue the innocent from the oppression of evildoers.  Yet, the Bible implies that God loves those He opposes.  I hope one example will suffice.  In Matthew 23, Jesus proclaims a number of “woes” (threat of impending doom) to the religious leaders for their hypocrisy.  Then in verses 37-38, we see Christ’s emotion displayed over their rebellion:  “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!  The city who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, yet you were not willing!  See, your house is left to you desolate.”  From this scripture, the tension between Christ’s love for those who oppress others (i.e. the prophets) and his declaration of judgment (i.e. “your house is left to you desolate”) is clear.  God is able to love those that he opposes (and even destroys!).  Is it possible that, as Christians,  we could do the same?


It seems as if I’ve avoided the question about whether Christians should be involved in the formation and functioning of national armies.  However, I do not feel that this issue can be addressed with first addressing the more fundamental issues of Just War and Pacifism.  Now that I have attempted to do so, I will briefly address the topic at hand.

I find there are very few reasons for a Christian to ever involve his or herself in the national army of his or her home country.  Living in America, I can see clearly our obsession with maintaining the most powerful military in the world, not so that we can humbly protect ourselves or defend others, but because we have lived by the sword for so long, we cannot afford not to.  The “just” standards of Just War theory are simply not a concern for most nations.  I would urge Christians as the “people of God” to spend their lives being “peacemakers” rather than earning careers in a military that is intent on maintaining its own power.  However, I will not assume that there may never come a time when Christians may need to partake in war to overcome and obvious unjust enemy (e.g., Hitler’s Germany, Pol Pot’s genocide).  Yet if we do this, we must do so knowing that though they are our enemy, we are still to love them and hope for their repentance.  We are to cry out for their salvation, and take no pleasure in “the death of the wicked” for we know that “but for God’s grace, there go I.”

[1] I am under no illusion that humans are able to perfectly measure out justice.  In our sinfulness, we are often guided by self-interest even in the most altruistic endeavors.  However, a situation where it is quite obvious that our neighbor is being oppressed or victimized requires that we act.  Our sense of justice is not so impaired by sin that we cannot see times when we must intervene on behalf of others.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 5, 2010 8:58

    I come down in nearly the same place. While I might hope to find the courage to not resist violence directed to me, I would also hope that I would act to prevent violence against others. Using violence to protect the innocent seems to me to be an act of love. I have been generally accepting of the notion of “Just War” (properly applied) but as I drift more toward Christian anarchism, I wonder it that is even possible.

    My take on a couple of these thoughts:

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